Written for our column in Cumbria Life.
Spring has well and truly arrived with rain, sleet and snow upon us as lambing got underway. No two years are ever the same, so no matter how well we plan, we’re always having to adapt to whatever the weather throws at us. Last year was fantastic weather for lambing, the year before not so good and ever few years we get a great heap of snow. The rain and sleet may have coincided with the start of lambing but the forecast has been good for the next few weeks so things are looking promising.
The sheep have wintered well so we’ve had very few lambing problems so far (fingers crossed). We decided to keep less sheep and because it was a kind winter, we saved money in feed costs so that should outweigh having less lambs to sell later in the year. We scan the sheep so we know how many lambs they are having. The ones due to have singles can stay outside and the ones scanned for multiples are brought inside the barn, close to their due date. This means we can give them a bit more attention and it saves some of the fields so they have plenty of grass when they go out with their lambs.
It’s always an exiting time seeing the new lambs arrive and how your breeding plans have worked. We sell the majority of our female lambs to other farmers in the autumn so it’s important that not only are they strong and healthy but look good as well. You might not believe it but farmers are very looks conscious! Each different breed had a distinct type that defines it from other breeds. We get exited to see if the rams we used have produced great lambs: all that time and investment will either pay off or be a bit of a disappointment. So far I’m pleased, however, a few sheep had been too eager to wait for their suitor to arrive and snuck out for the night with some local lothario. So, we had some surprise early lambs, not of the breeding we hoped for. Still good lambs though so I can’t complain.
Next month – we will still be lambing but these will be out Cheviot sheep which lamb outside up at Parkamoor which is on Bethecar Moor.
Lambing pretty much takes over two months of our lives. This year, I decided to share more of the lambing process by creating Instagram videos on our Dodgson Wood account. I’d never done this before, preferring to post photos with captions, but it seems viewers really like the raw, live footage. With so much content available that’s carefully edited and curated to give particular impressions, the unedited clips show more of the reality. Yesterday we had a very difficult lambing situation. The ewe had looked like it was trying to lamb all morning and when John investigated, realised that two lambs were stuck in the birth canal. They were completely entwined, and both trying to come out at the same time. She would never have managed to lamb these herself had she been left, but John, with over 45 years lambing experience, new what to do. They problem was, he has really big hands so getting his hand in far enough to untangle the lambs, still inside the ewe, would have been difficult, if not impossible. Fortunately the two vet students we have with us on placement had small enough hands for the job so John was able to direct them. “See if you can get your hand round the back of one of the heads and then feel down to a shoulder and along the leg and bring it forward.” It’s such a tight space it can feel like your hand is being crushed and the temperature inside the ewe’s body is surprisingly hot. I was doing a live broadcast of this this but stopped because my phone was almost out of battery and I was also worried it was getting too graphic for the people watching. However, after I stopped filming, John and the students managed to get the lambs untangled and successfully delivered two big, healthy lambs. And, then, to everyone’s surprise, out popped a third, unexpected, bonus lamb! I needn’t have worried about the viewers, I had lots of messages letting me know how much they enjoyed watching, despite the anxiety of not knowing how it would turn out.
Lambing is my favourite time of year on the farm. It’s intense drama with lots of highs and some devastating lows. I love being right in the middle of it. However, without John’s vast experience, I’d no doubt run up huge expenses by calling the vet on a daily basis!
Next month – I will probably have some bottle-fed lambs to feed but will be busy with baby runner ducks if the incubator has worked.